“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”” (John 7:37-52 ESV)
The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths was only one of three annual feasts that required faithful Jews to travel to Jerusalem for worship and celebrations. The celebration included building small “booths” or shelters at their homes and to “live” in them for the entire week of the celebrations. The small shelters, or booths, were a reminder of the wilderness wandering of the Exodus but, more specifically, it was intended to remind the people of God’s provision during this event. On the last “great” day of the feast, the priests would have led a procession from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple with jars of water they had drawn from the pool. The priests would then pour the water around the base of the sacrificial altar as a means of thanking God for his provision. Ok, but what does all of this have to do with Jesus’ declaration “if anyone thirsts, let him come drink?” And, perhaps more timely, what does that have to do with you and me?
Let’s take a look…
While Jesus had refused his brothers’ demands that he go up publicly and “perform” a few miracles to impress the crowd, he had determined to go up privately. He had been teaching in the temple, but not drawing a lot of attention to himself. But on this last day of the feast, called the “great” day, he stood up and cried out for the crowd to listen, “if you are thirsty, come and drink. If anyone will believe in me then scripture says, “out of his heart will flow rivers of living (or life giving) water.
This will help explain Jesus’ words…
As the priest is pouring the water around the base of the altar, the following passage is being read: “Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side… And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”” (Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-12 ESV)
Deep desires and longings…
So, while the Jews celebrated the Exodus (freedom from slavery) and God’s provision, Jesus stands up in the middle of the celebration of “living water” and declares that HE is the source of the very water Isaiah promises. This wasn’t some random act or odd statement that seemed out of place, it was timed perfectly and it was intended to draw the people’s attention to a deep spiritual truth, God provides more than a drink of water when you’re physically thirsty. He provides a drink of living water that quenches our deepest thirst, our desire for life as it was meant to be.
I want to pause here a moment and get you to consider what I just said… life as it was meant to be. You see, we all recognize that life as we know it is not life as it was MEANT to be. I think this is one of the strongest arguments for the existence of God. Why would we ever have an internal longing that is so deeply rooted in human existence that has NEVER been known, unless it had BEEN known in some way and lost. Thus, it is embedded deep in our souls. Something we instinctively desire, longing for its restoration. We long for what has been lost. We seek life at its fullest. Yet, everything we use as a substitute in this broken, struggling existence seems to fall just short of satisfaction.
Have you ever worked a puzzle and there is a piece you can’t quite find. You search for it because it is a key piece to make the rest of the puzzle come together. Finally, you near the end of the puzzle and you suddenly realize the truth, you couldn’t find that piece because it wasn’t even in the box. Nothing fits that spot because it has been missing, all along. We keep looking for that piece, but we are looking in the wrong places. We want a piece that fulfills the deep needs and longings of our soul, but we look at the broken pieces of life that simply don’t fit. The only piece that fits is the one made to fit or fulfill your soul’s longing, Jesus!
His brothers wanted earthly popularity and fame. His followers wanted a king who would feed their wants and desires. His opponents wanted submission to their agenda and “the party line.” Sound familiar?
But, Jesus wasn’t here to do their will. Nor has he come to do our will. He didn’t come to fulfill our sinful longings and selfish desires. He wasn’t seeking man’s approval and he says as much. He came to give us what we really need, but still fail to find in all of these human trappings. He came to give us a drink from a fountain that doesn’t flow from man’s heart, but God’s.
No one speaks like this man…
Finally, notice that the Jewish leaders send Temple guards/officers, to arrest Jesus (vs. 32-36). But, Jesus tells them they have no authority over him. He will go where God wills, and they won’t be able stop him nor follow him. While we tend to read and understand this exchange in light of the cross, resurrection and ascension, consider how the officers regarded it. They were used to having authority and power over the people. One thing about political/religious authority and power is that its strength lies in the fear it generates in people. In other words, their power was in the fact that the people feared them.
Jesus had no such fear. His reaction to the religious leadership and their officers confounded them. When the officers returned without arresting Jesus, the Chief Priests and Pharisees wanted an explanation. The officers simply replied, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees replied, What? Has he deceived you, too? Have any of us been fooled by his outlandish claims? Do you see any of us acting crazy like this? These people who don’t really know God’s law will be cursed by their choice to believe and follow him.
In many ways, we face a similar challenge today. Our culture rejects Jesus’ claims of authority. Just like the chief priests, we want Jesus to submit to our demands, to fit our expectations of God. We try and make him fit into our mold, instead of submitting ourselves to the molding of the potter’s hands. The challenge we face is deciding whether we will submit to Jesus’ authority and respond like the officers, no one ever spoke like this man before! Or, we will respond like the Jewish authorities rejecting his claims, trying to force him into our mold? Do we want God to be like us, or do we want to be molded into his image? Are we willing to accept his provision, or will our fierce independence and individualism reject Him in favor of our own solutions?